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Opinion: Dixie State name change must reflect the community

DSU students enjoy sunshine, red rocks, and the area’s heritage. Removing that focus severs students from one of these reasons.

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The word “Dixie” appears on a bluff in St. George.

The word “Dixie,” painted on the bluff in St. George, is pictured on Friday, April 9, 2021. The Dixie State is working on a name change.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Dixie State is working on more than a name change. At its convocation, it announced a newly approved mission statement.” Here’s what it says:

“Dixie State University is an open, inclusive, comprehensive, polytechnic university featuring active and applied learning to advance students’ knowledge and skills while fostering competent, resilient, lifelong learners to succeed in their careers and personal lives as creators, innovators and responsible citizens.”

While much of this is not surprising, as most are aware of DSU’s push for a polytechnic focus, worth noting is what has been omitted from the original mission statement. The phrases “community” and “opportunities that engage the unique southern Utah environment and resources” were omitted. In fact, DSU’s new mission statement leaves no connection to southern Utah. When most of us heard the announcement of “Utah Tech,” we considered the new name could break ties with our community, but it still begged the question. Following the changes in their mission statement, the evidence is stacked.

Perhaps these omissions are due to our community fighting Dixie State’s name change. But, could anyone expect our community would not fight for the name of the university our ancestors built, for a name that has always represented southern Utah? (The names St. George and Dixie have each referenced our southwestern corner of Utah.)

Our community loves DSU. We’ve rooted Dixie State on as it gained university status. With excitement and anticipation, we’ve watched our university grow, knowing certain aspects of DSU’s community-centered focus would change. Most even approve of our university’s collaboration with Tech Ridge to provide students with jobs upon graduation. And, because of all this support, we are in a unique situation where the Utah Legislature has asked DSU (per HB278) to collaborate with our community on their new name, evidence that the Legislature backs our connection.

Part of HB278 requires that Dixie State’s new name embody “the institution’s mission and significance to the surrounding region.” In April, our community likewise identified “mission” and “location” as its top two themes for the new name. DSU’s new mission statement wasn’t approved until July, and it’s unlikely to garner community support, as people want community connection.

Community support also wanes over the “Utah” location, as our university’s names have always referenced southern Utah. Additionally, the “Utah” location focus fails to reflect the significance of our “region,” making it inconsistent with HB278.

These observations are not meant to disparage the difficult task of putting forward a new name; the DSU administration, trustees and committees have worked relentlessly on a strong vision to posture Dixie State for the future. However, we can’t keep cutting the community out, and we should consider the impact these changes could have on students as well.

Many of our students are local (according to DSU’s convocation, 72.6% are Utah residents and 51% are from Washington County). Those students come to school in southern Utah because they want immersion in our environment; they enjoy our sunshine, red rocks and heritage. Removing that focus severs students from one of the main reasons they come here. After gauging these considerations, it’s important to recognize that we still have an opportunity for a reconnect — the new name.

No doubt our legislators will have a tough time settling this. As DSU transitions to a new name, a new focus and a new mission, is there room for our community, too?

Why not shift our efforts toward giving back to the community that built DSU and see what fruit that yields? Reciprocity might be a higher and harder road, but the best universities in our nation are fueled by fierce support from their communities, and Dixie State would likely receive a return on its investment.

Since the Utah Legislature has favored a name change for Dixie, we are fighting for a name that will help DSU keep its ties to our community: St. George (the original name of our university).

After all of this, we are left with more questions than answers. But one thing is certain — this is more than a name change.

Alexis Ence is a resident of Santa Clara, Utah. She received her master’s degree in general English at NAU, and has taught English part time at Dixie State University for nine years.